Senate Halts Moves to Probe Health

THISDAY Newspaper-Sufuyan Ojeifo and Onwuka Nzeshi

Abuja — Moves by Chairman of the Senate Committee on Solid Minerals, George Thompson Sekibo (PDP, Rivers East), to sway the Senate to probe the health condition and whereabouts of ailing President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua were yesterday stopped by the Senate.

It was the second time such moves would be stopped by the Senate. And as the House of Representatives denied its leadership was privy to any coup scare in the land, its Northern Parliamentary Caucus has asked Information and Communica-tion Minister Dora Akunyili to resign her appointment over statements credited to her on the existence of a cabal in the Presidency.

The Upper House had on December 1 last year rejected a motion brought by Deputy Senate Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN) (Cross River Central) seeking that the President's health be investigated.

Raising the matter yesterday through a constitutional point of order, Sekibo cited Sections 88, 89 and 1(1) of the 1999 Constitution and Orders 14, 15 and 16 of the Senate Standing Order (2007 as amended). He said his privilege had been breached by the lingering mystery surrounding the President's health for the 93 days in which Yar'Adua was away.

He said the inability of several groups to see Yar'Adua while in a Saudi Arabian hospital and the sneaky manner he returned to the country on February 24, 2010 breached his privilege as a Nigerian. But Senate President David Mark (PDP, Benue South) quickly halted him, declaring that the issue he raised had nothing to do with his privilege.

Mark said: "The subject matter that you have introduced has absolutely nothing to do with your privilege, absolutely nothing; Section 89 becomes relevant only when Section 88 comes into the equation. You read it yourself.

"You have not gotten Section 88 through and then you now brought up Section 89. With all due respect, please, I think this is not only unnecessary, I think we have also wasted a lot of time on this, going through all this, just to come up with the issue of Mr. President's health, please, I rule you out of order."

Speaking with reporters after the plenary, Sekibo explained that he was trying to get the leadership of the Senate to get some information on the true state of health and whereabouts of the President.

He said: "All I tried to do was to draw the attention of my colleagues to the fact that Nigerians and the Senate cannot thrive on speculations and rumours. I wanted to urge the Senate leadership to find out the whereabouts of Mr. President.

"The House of Representa-tives sent a delegation; they could not see Mr. President; the PDP delegation and a delegation of Ministers were all denied access to Mr. President while he was said to be in Saudi Arabia.

"Now, they say he is back; nobody has been allowed to see him. Who is certain whether he is in this country? I believe Section 88 of the Constitution empowers us to investigate his absence. Even though we have an Acting President, it is not right to dwell on speculations."

Sekibo said his moves were not intended to pull down the ailing president, stressing: "No Senator will like to pull down the President."

Section 88 (1)(a)(b) of the 1999 Constitution, which Sekibo cited, read in: (1) Subject to the provisions of this constitution, each House of the National Assembly shall have power by resolution published in its journal or in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation to direct or cause to be directed investigation into - (a) Any matter or thing with respect to which it has power to make laws, and; (b) The conduct of affairs of any person, authority, ministry or government department charged, or intended to be charged, with the duty of or responsibility for - (i) executing or administering laws enacted by National Assembly; and, (ii) disbursing or administering moneys appropriated or to be appropriated by the National Assembly.

The House Northern caucus expressed grave concern over recent statements credited to Akunyili suggesting that Acting President Goodluck Jonathan was being undermined at the Presidential Villa. The onslaught against Akunyili came as the House denied media reports that its leadership was privy to any coup scare in the polity.

It said at no time was such information brought to the knowledge of its members during its closed door session on Tuesday, adding that neither Speaker Dimeji Bankole nor any member of the House had any knowledge of any plot to overthrow the government. Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Eseme Eyiboh, made these clarifications at a news conference.

Chairman, House Committee on Defence, Hon. Wole Oke, and Chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Hon. Bature Umar, who were also at the press conference jointly explained that the heavy security witnessed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja and on the route to Aso Presidential Villa on the night President Yar'Adua returned from Saudi Arabia did not amount to troop deployment but was a mere routine duty of the Brigade of Guards.

Briefing newsmen on the outcome of its own meeting held last Tuesday, Chairman of the Northern Caucus, Hon. Terngu Tsegba, said under the doctrine of collective responsibility, Akunyili as a cabinet minister was not competent to make public statements in contradiction of the collective decision of the Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF) irrespective of her personal opinion on the matter.

The caucus urged all public officers particularly members of the EXCOF to refrain forthwith from making further inflammatory statements capable of undermining the peace, stability and unity of Nigeria.

Members of the caucus in attendance at the briefing included House Minority Leader, Hon. Mohammed Ali Ndume (ANPP Borno); Chairman, House Committee on Police Affairs, Hon. Abdul Ningi (PDP Bauchi); Chairman, House Committee on Customs, Hon. Yakubu Dogara (PDP Bauchi); Chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Hon. Bature Umar (PDP Sokoto); Chairman, House Committee on Housing, Hon. Garba Shehu Matazu; Chairman, House Committee on Drugs and Narcotics, Hon. Rabe Nasir; as well as Chairman, House Committee on Inter-parliamentary Affairs, Hon. Sada Soli Jibia.

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Meanwhile, Speaker Bankole has denied any link with media reports insinuating that he confirmed to his colleague lawmakers about a coup threat. In a swift response made on his behalf by his Special Adviser on Communications, Mr. Kayode Odunaro, the Speaker said media reports that attributed such issues to him were the imaginations of the writer.

"We state with all emphasis that at no point in the executive session did the Speaker confirm a 'Coup Threat' or plot as speculatively reported in the lead story and we challenge the reporter to provide proof or name any member or members that confirmed a coup threat. Rt. Hon. Bankole has been statemanly in the handling of issues relating to the political impasse in the country and would not join the bandwagon of those fanning embers of disunity, instability and discord to achieve their selfish political agenda," he said.


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